RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Like last time, I’m going to start off by recommending one story arc from The Clone Wars to serve as an introduction to these characters before we meet them in Rebels. The episodes I’m recommending (episodes 1-4 of Season Six) may seem counter-intuitive because Captain Rex is barely featured in them, but I have a good reason for choosing these. First, there are really no good story arcs in the series that specifically focus on Rex. I mean, I guess I could have you watch the one where he faces off against Jedi general Krell, but that one’s both not very good, and I don’t expect it will have any bearing on Rex’s role in Rebels. Which brings me to my second reason for choosing this particular arc. This arc specifically explores (and retcons) the nature of Order 66 – the command given to the clones that led to them turning on their Jedi generals and executing them. The revelations made here are both interesting from a lore perspective, and likely the only important development in the story of The Clone Wars that will need to be referenced in order to bring Rex and company into the fold in Rebels.
Again, I’ll be spoiling this story arc in its entirety here, so if you’re interested in watching beforehand, it’s episodes 1-4 of Season Six, streaming on Netflix. It’s not as good as the Ahsoka story I had you watch last time, but it’s still a good deal better than most of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
I’m back again with another Star Wars Rebels Primer! As was the case with my article on Ahsoka, my goal here is to bring Rebels fans up to speed on the history of these characters from The Clone Wars so that they don’t have to go back and suffer through that nonsense on their own. This time, I’m here to talk to you about Captain Rex and the clones. No, sadly, not that Captain Rex, but rather clone trooper designation CT-7567, captain in the Grand Army of the Republic.
For those of you who have watched the prequels (which I must assume is almost everyone reading this), you’re probably wondering why I would bother to write a whole column on the clones. Surely after watching the movies you’d know all you need to about them. Interestingly, that’s not the case. One of the most frustrating things about the Clone Wars as seen in the Star Wars prequels is that it was nothing more than two armies of nameless, disposable foot soldiers. The Republic’s clones and the Separatists’ droids were just waves of pixels crashing into each other, devoid of any semblance of humanity to bring the audience into this conflict on an emotional level.
This, it seems, was something The Clone Wars TV series set out to correct. In The Clone Wars we see that these identical soldiers bred for war have developed individual personalities and have even taken names to distinguish themselves beyond the numerical designation they were assigned. Chief among these clones, at least as far as the series is concerned, is CT-7567, or “Rex.” Rex is the first named clone we meet, and – despite having a limited number of episodes focused on him undergoes the most interesting arc of any clone in the series.
When we first meet Rex, he’s a creative, but by-the-books soldier. He’s the kind of soldier who can plan and execute an ingenious strategy while also following orders without question. It’s this creative spark that catches the attention of Anakin, and Rex becomes a frequent fixture of General Skywalker’s missions. This also means that Rex, more so than any other clone, worked closely with Ahsoka, being a mentor to her just as much as Anakin or Obi-Wan were.
Rex is present during most of the major stories we see during The Clone Wars, but there are a only a few that stand out as being particularly significant for his personal arc. The first comes in the Season Two episode “The Deserter” where Rex is injured during a battle with General Grievous’ forces on the planet Saleucami. Seeking shelter to patch up their captain, the clones locate a small farm and tend to Rex’s wounds. The farmer’s wife allows Rex to stay and rest while the other soldiers continue the hunt for Grievous, but after the other clones have left, Rex is greeted by Cut Lawquane, the owner of the farm, who happens to be a clone who deserted the war to start a family. The two clones find themselves in an ideological dispute; Rex thinks Cut a coward for abandoning his duty as a soldier, while Cut argues that clones are worth more than just being disposable weapons in someone else’s war. It’s his right, Cut argues, to choose to have a life, to have a family, and not be just another nameless clone in an endless war. It’s this, combined with the bravery of Cut who fights alongside Rex to defend his home and his family when Separatist droids invade, that begins to change Rex’s outlook. Rex remains loyal to the Republic, but he starts questions his role in this war and the nature of a clone’s humanity.
The other major turning point for Rex comes during the battle of Umbara (Season Four, episodes 7-10) when Anakin is called away from the battle field to meet with the Jedi council, leaving Jedi general Pong Krell to command Rex and his troops. Krell has a reputation for getting the job done, but also tends to leave behind dozens of clone casualties on every mission. True to form, once Krell takes over the operation, he begins issuing needlessly reckless tactics despite the best efforts of Rex to advise more sane plans of attack. Krell orders the clones to charge headfirst into enemy lines in order to capture an airbase and Rex finds himself torn between his duty as a soldier and his duty to his fellow clones. Witnessing the senseless slaughter of his squad, Rex breaks rank and instructs a few of his soldiers to to sneak behind enemy lines and steal a couple of starfighters to help turn the tide of the battle. They ultimately succeed in taking the base, but Krell is furious, demanding that Rex and the other clones fall in line or risk being court-martialed.
After capturing the base, the next step in the operation is to continue on and join up with the other troops to take the Umbaran capital. While Krell is preparing another suicide mission for the troops, a trio of clones – Fives, Jesse, and Hardcase – develop a plan to use the enemy star fighters at the captured base to destroy a supply ship orbiting the planet. With the supply ship destroyed, the enemy forces on the ground would be cut off, making the Republic’s victory that much easier. General Krell predictably rejects the plan and instead orders another full frontal assault. The three clones resolve to disobey orders and go through with their plan anyway, and though Hardcase doesn’t make it out alive, Fives and Jesse successfully complete the mission and destroy the supply ship.
Upon their arrival, Krell not only court-martials them, but orders their execution on the spot. Rex, who has up until this point continued to reluctantly obey Krell’s orders, is forced to lead a firing squad to execute his fellow clones. After an impassioned speech from Fives insisting that clones have a right to make their own decisions, Rex and the rest of the troops refuse to carry out the execution. Before Krell has a chance to punish them for their insubordination, a transmission comes in informing them that enemy troops are inbound disguised with stolen clone armor. Krell sends the troops out for a pre-emptive strike, but they quickly find out that the troops they’ve been ordered to attack aren’t Umbarans disguised as clones, but are clones themselves who have also been given bad intel by Krell who had intended for the two groups to execute each other. Upon learning of Krell’s treachery, Rex leads his troops to arrest Krell who reveals that he has foreseen that the Republic will crumble, and has decided to jump ship and sign up with the Sith.*
This whole event is a dramatic turning point for Rex who has already been wrestling with the questions of a clone’s capacity for free will. One of the Jedi, the leadership he’d sworn to protect, had betrayed him and forced him to commit unspeakable acts against his fellow clones. Maybe his duty to his own kind supercedes his duty to the Jedi or even the Republic.
This is evidenced by the way Rex reacts when Ahsoka is framed for murder and appears to have killed clones who were in the way of her escape. Rex initially vocalizes his disbelief that Ahsoka could do such a thing, yet when Anakin orders Rex to instruct the other clones not to harm Ahsoka, he instead puts out an APB warning that the apprentice should be considered armed and dangerous. Ahsoka may be a friend, but Rex has learned well the lessons of Krell and knows his duty is first and foremost to his fellow clones.
Despite this, it’s still more than clear that Rex would be reluctant to go so far as to kill a Jedi. Even when the entirety of Krell’s treachery was exposed, Rex couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger on his commanding officer. The notion of having a “kill all the Jedi” command as part of the standard training procedure for clone troopers was already profoundly silly, but The Clone Wars’ attempts to deepen the clones’ characterizations only exacerbated the issue. The problem with making these guys more than just nameless cannon fodder is that we’re no longer going to buy the idea that they would cooly murder their friends and allies just because the Emperor said so. The nature of Order 66 needed to be changed, and that leads us to one of The Clone Wars more noteworthy acts of retcon.
In the first episode of Season 6 a clone trooper by the name of Tup turns on one of the Jedi during the heat of battle and murders her. Tup is detained and sedated, but when he comes to he has no recollection of the incident and is, in fact, horrified when informed of what he has done. Yet whenever Tup is in the presence of the Jedi, he goes into some kind of murderous trance, the stress of which is causing both his physical health and mental stability to rapidly deteriorate. Tup, along with Fives – an ARC trooper in the same company as Tup who you may remember from the aforementioned incident with General Krell – are taken to the cloning facilities on Kamino to see if Tup’s condition can be diagnosed and whether or not it is contagious. We quickly learn, however that the Kaminoans, who are working for the Jedi, implanted a secret inhibitor chip in every clones’ brain at the behest of Lord Tyranus who they believe to be a Jedi Master, but who is, in fact Separatist leader Count Dooku who is working for Darth Sidious, who is actually Shiev Palpatine, Supreme Chancellor of the Republic (thanks, George Lucas). The chip in question is supposed to be a sort of failsafe in the event that the Jedi would turn against the Republic, but is in reality part of Palpatine’s plan to destroy the Jedi and rule the galaxy. Due to a malfunction, Tup’s chip activated prematurely, and the Kaminoans are instructed by Dooku to make sure the Jedi do not ascertain the true nature of Tup’s condition.
Fives, however, can smell a conspiracy a mile away and begins putting together the pieces, discovering the chip in Tup’s head as well as having his own surgically removed. Fives attempts to present his findings to the Jedi, but is instead accused of sharing Tup’s illness and is forced to go on the run. He eventually manages to make contact with Rex and Anakin to tell them what he found, but when Fives attempts to resist arrest, he is shot and killed.
This story is almost certainly the key to the appearance of clones fifteen years after the rise of the Empire. The official line right now for why stormtroopers replaced clone troopers is that the cost of cloning was too high to justify following the conclusion of the Clone Wars, but that doesn’t explain what happened to the million or so clones already in service. My theory, based on what happened with Tup, is that Order 66 was a single-use kill switch that would cause the clones to turn on the Jedi, but would also cause their minds to rapidly deteriorate making them unfit for service.** Rex, on the other hand, who we know did not participate in the execution of the Jedi, presumably investigated Fives’ claims further and had his own chip removed. In the end, Rex, the loyal, by the book soldier who was once aghast to find another clone who had abandoned the war, ultimately chose both treason and exile from the Republic-turned-Empire he previously served. That makes him the second Clone Wars character brought into the world of Rebels who was betrayed by, and subsequently abandoned the organization they were once fiercely loyal to, and that makes for an interesting thread to pick up on.
As for the other two clones we’ll be seeing, there’s not as much to say. Wolffe is just one of the hundreds of background clones we see in the series who happened to get a name and a unique armor design. He was one of the clones who attempted to arrest Ahsoka when she was framed for murder, but that’s the only remotely significant thing he was involved in. He and Rex were friendly, though, so it’s easy to imagine Rex let him in on the secret once he uncovered Fives’ findings.
Gregor’s appearance is much more strange. Gregor was a clone commando who lost his memory when he crash landed on the planet Abafar and ended up living as an indentured servant to a Sullustan restaurant owner. Eventually he was discovered by Republic Colonel Meebur Gascon during the Colonel’s misadventures with R2-D2 and a squadron of astromech droids (don’t ask) and was reminded of his role as a soldier. Gregor retrieved his old clone commando equipment and helped Gascon get off the planet, but was apparently killed in the process. It’s curious that this one-off character who was presumed dead would be one of the three clones brought back for Rebels, and I’m interested to see what Filoni and company do with his inclusion.
I continue to approach the second season of Star Wars Rebels with both excitement and trepidation because I don’t want to see Rebels end up being The Clone Wars Episode II. However, as with Ahsoka, the return of Captain Rex is something that intrigues me and could potentially push the story in interesting directions. Two episodes into Rebels Season Two and there are already four more Clone Wars characters than I had ever hoped to see, and yet I somehow remain optimistic. I may not like The Clone Wars much, but I like Rebels a whole lot, and the Lucasfilm team has more than earned my trust at this point. I supposed we’ll find out how well they handled the return of the clones when Rebels‘ second season resumes this Wednesday.
*Incidentally, this is something that frustrates me about The Clone Wars. The Jedi who rebel against the war effort because they (correctly) think it is corrupt or futile are always portrayed as not only bad guys, but bad guys who have turned to the Dark Side. This is another example of the show’s bizarre pro-war sentiment that misunderstands the entire thematic point of the Clone Wars being based on manipulation and corruption.
**In the new, canon, novels that have thus far been released there are a small handful of clones who continued to serve the Empire at least five years following the end of the Clone Wars, but no explanation has been given as to what happened to the other million or so clone who survived the Clone Wars.